Anyone who's spent time in the kitchen understands that one is prone to have hits and misses. One of my more notable misses was a curried butternut squash soup in which I managed to both accidentally oversalt and use spoiled chicken broth – let's just say we ordered pizza for dinner that night.
Shortly after moving to Maryland I tried a new curry recipe that utilized a variety of spices, baby corn, eggplant, and peanut butter. It was easily one of the most nausea-inducing things I have ever experienced. I think that night we ordered Thai food.
However, along with the extreme low-points one is also destined to have incredible highs. Those highs are even more satisfying when you're merely experimenting with new ingredients, not yet sure what will come.
As you're adding bits and bobs here and there there's little hints of potential greatness shining through; but it's when the final dish comes together and one is thrust into the involuntary eye-closing, throat-humming, throes of culinary satisfaction (think of those TV personalities who wax poetic about every single thing they throw in their mouths) that you realize you have indeed created something wonderful.
This, my friend, is one of those dishes.
I've eaten rabbit many times, but this is the first time I've attempted to cook it myself. A local farm was selling them at the farmers market last weekend and I couldn't resist trying my hand at something new. I knew I wanted to braise it, and I was hoping it would pair well with this delightful smoked pasta I brought back with me from Italy.
I didn't want to overpower the rather delicate flavor of the rabbit with something heavy like wine, so I used the last vestiges of a bottle of Hennessy in my cupboard to deglaze the pan. As I was about to prepare the sauce to go over the pasta I knew it was just missing...something. So I popped the cork on a beautiful bottle of Bordeaux vinegar I got as part of a birthday present from my aunt (presents you can ingest are always the best) and splashed in a tablespoon or two – and it punched up the flavor perfectly.
It's a rather decadent meal, what with all the butter, booze, and carbs – but it's certainly one of those meals perfect for impressing your friends with a minimal amount of effort. If you can't find smoked tagliatelle (try – it's totally worth it!), then substitute any other tagliatelle-style pasta.
Braised Rabbit with Mushrooms over Smoked Pasta
1 small rabbit (approx. 2 lbs)
4 oz bacon, diced
8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 yellow onion, diced
1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, minced
5 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons cognac
2 cups vegetable/chicken stock
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ cup all-purpose flour, divided
chopped scallions, for garnish
kosher salt, to taste
smoked tagliatelle or other pasta, prepared and lightly tossed with extra virgin olive oil to prevent sticking
Preheat oven to 300 F
Cut the rabbit into 6 pieces (hind legs, forelegs, and split the back). Season well with kosher salt and sprinkle with ¼ cup all-purpose flour. Set aside.
In a heavy bottomed pan with lid (enameled cast iron works particularly well), cook the bacon over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crispy. Remove the crisped bacon with a slotted spoon. Set aside. Add the rabbit pieces (in batches, so as not to crowd the pan) and let brown on each side for 3-4 minutes. Remove the rabbit and set aside.
Add the mushrooms to the pan and season lightly with kosher salt. Cook until slightly browned and starting to soften. Add the onion and garlic, stirring well to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Continue to cook over medium heat until the onion softens and begins to brown – about 4-5 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of butter and the cognac, scraping any remaining browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Nestle the rabbit pieces in the onion and mushrooms. Pour in the stock to cover. Cover the pan with its lid and place in the preheated oven for 90 minutes or until fork tender.
When the rabbit is finished remove from the pan and set aside in a covered dish to keep warm. (Now is a good time to start the pasta boiling). Add the 2 tablespoons vinegar to the braising liquid. In a separate pan over medium heat melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter. Add the remaining ¼ cup of flour and cook, stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes or until the roux turns blonde. One ladle-full at a time add the braising liquid, stirring constantly, until all has been added and sauce is thickened.
Serve the rabbit pieces over the pasta, topped with the onion and mushroom sauce, and garnished with the crispy bacon and chopped scallion.